Presidential Election Motivates Immigrants to Become Citizens

For many, being able to vote is a compelling reason to become naturalized

Tuesday marks the 20th year that Makia Numes has been in the United States. She never thought about becoming a citizen until recently, when she learned who the candidates were for the presidential election. For Numes, becoming a citizen of "one of the greatest countries in the world" was a privilege.

"It's like I've been here for 20 years but I didn't feel like I had a voice. I felt like I hadn't been heard," said Numes, 39. "Being a citizen means that I will be heard, means that my voice will be heard and that I do have a voice, that I can make a difference."

Numes was among over 3,000 other people who became citizens on Tuesday during the naturalization ceremonies held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. People representing over 100 different countries held small American flags in their left hands and raised their right hands as they repeated an oath of allegiance to the United States. The oath is one of the last requirements that has to be completed before citizenship is granted.

"It was very emotional for me, I cried the whole time because it brought me back into 1996 when I migrated here and I felt like that very moment the journey… just completely ended," said Numes.

Family and friends were there in support of their loved ones who had completed the long process to become citizens. To be eligible, all applicants had to be a permanent resident for at least five years, have a basic understanding of United States history and government and be of good moral character, among other requirements.

"I know for a lot of them, they've been here many many years, they've come from another country where they may not have had all the same rights and responsibilities that U.S. citizenship offers," said Roland Lyons, U.S. citizenship and immigration services field office director. "I know that means a lot to them to have gone through the entire process and have the same rights and responsibilities as a person who is born here."

After the ceremony and with citizenship certificates in hand, many newly naturalized citizens went to register to vote. Exercising their right to vote was one reason that many people wanted to become citizens in the first place.

"I'm actually happy that this ceremony happened in time for me to vote. I was really worried that I would not get the certificate in time to vote because I've been here for 20 plus years and just never did it and finally decided it's time so I could… make my voice count this time around," said 44-year-old Cecille Farber.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, there has been a 32.1 percent increase in naturalization applications since last year, so much that the rise in applications has created a backlog. NBC found recently that this increase is common in election years.

Numes feels that no matter what struggles immigrants are going through, they should never give up on their dreams of becoming U.S. citizens.

"All the immigrants out there who came here with the same dream, same opportunity to provide for your family to get away from whatever you're suffering… don't give up. There's hope for you too. You will make a difference and you will be standing here right here just like I am," said Numes.

Reach Staff Reporter Tiffani DuPree here. Follow her on Twitter here.